Category Archives: On death and dying.

People who I used to know…..

The sadness of suicide.


Most of us have read about the recent suicide of the TV presenter, Caroline Flack.  Her death made me sad, she was only forty and until recently seemed to have the world at her feet having won a series of Strictly Come Dancing and been a major success in Love Island. The outpouring of sorrow from those who knew her has been huge and in some ways has reminded me of when Princess Diana was killed, the genuine grief being fuelled by the media so that in the end, this ordinary human takes on an almost saintly persona.

Since 2014, suicide rates in the UK had been on the decline but they have begun to surge again, especially amongst young men.

Lots of us will have lost family or friends to suicide and understand all too well, how painful this can be. When my friend Simon took his life in 1991 the HIV community where I worked, were all devastated. Simon was a beautiful person, a tall, gangly, young gay man who was HIV positive. His father was a preacher and when Simon came out he was banished from the church, his dad telling him he would taint the holy atmosphere with his unholy behaviour. In-spite of this, Simon was gregarious, warm and very funny, a delight to be around and extremely well loved by almost everyone he met. No matter how much he was loved by us, nevertheless his father`s words must have had a major impact on Simon`s self-esteem. When he split up with his older boyfriend, he engaged in a relationship with an older, married woman, (not me) so he was certainly unsure of himself and his sexuality. At the time I thought this relationship was unhelpful to Simon and maybe I was right. I shall never know.

The day that Simon died he rang me to chat and I realise in retrospective moments, to say goodbye. He gave me no clues; he quietly took himself off into the countryside, attached a hose pipe to his exhaust and passed away in the sunshine. He just couldn`t do life anymore. When I was told of his death, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I was tasked with ringing up his ex- boyfriend to tell him the news, it was awful.

Simon`s father must have relented in some way as he chose to conduct his own son`s funeral. Finally admitting Simon`s body to taint the air of his church, it was a sombre affair and bore no resemblance to the bright, vivacious friend we had all lost. The church was packed out, standing room only and we wore all the colours of the rainbow. We were not welcome to join his family at the wake, so we all piled back to Body Positive and had a wake of our own and celebrated the wonderful young man we had lost.

If Caroline Flack`s death has done anything at all, it has highlighted that the media must take responsibility for some of how she was feeling and must learn lessons from that. In the last few months of her life tabloids, trolls and social media have harassed and harangued her following an alleged assault to her partner. It must have helped to push her to the very edge in it seems, an already complicated life.

The biggest question I asked myself after Simon died was, “why couldn`t he come to me for help? I could have helped.” But this is the thing with suicide, when people have really made up their minds, they make a plan and the plan does not include asking for help. The Samaritans organisation exists partly to effectively help those who are considering suicide and that is a good thing yet some people cannot manage life, it is far too painful in which case death must come as a welcome release.

RIP Simon, Caroline and all those who have decided their time has come. You are and will always be missed.

I can`t smile without you.


An old friend of my family passed away just over two years ago. Ours was not a close relationship however, I was very sorry to witness her demise as she became terribly frail with dementia.

It had been problematic for her family to organise the scattering of her ashes since her grandchildren wanted to be there as did her great grandchildren and all of them are scattered to the four winds, pardon the pun. As a result, the ashes were safely kept, until everyone could attend. Actually, I`m not sure where they were kept, I just Googled it and Google says at the Cricket Museum at Lords so that wasn`t terribly helpful. Anyway, with the patient and thoughtful arrangements of a member of her family, a date was finally arranged. I kept out of the proceedings.

There was some discord around the final date of the scattering as it fell on a school day meaning great grandchildren could not come along to say goodbye. No matter, the morning arrived and as it happened owing to unexpected circumstances, it had to be cancelled.

Another week went by and finally with everyone in agreement, a new date was arranged. The difficulties around school days remained the same, so a separate, small urn of ashes had been prepared for them so that the great grandchildren could celebrate their great grandma`s life and say their goodbyes in their own time.

I only came to understand these proceedings as I am friends with the deceased person`s son. I asked him one day recently if he would kindly take me to our local tip with some garden rubbish which was duly bagged and good to go in the back of his van. As I got ready to get into the vehicle he said, “Oh, don`t sit on that Sainsburys shopping bag,” (which was on the passenger seat,) “my mother`s inside it, can`t have you sitting on mother,” and that is how the story has unfolded to me.

Now I am a rather irreverent person and I found this quite an amusing tale but not as amusing as when he went on further to say, “yes, I have her false teeth somewhere in the back of this van, I really must clear it out.”  (I knew his van had become a holding place for all manner of items as he was somewhat of a hoarder but this revelation surprised even me.)

I said, “You have your mother`s false teeth in the back of the van. Why? Why do you have your mother`s false teeth in the back of your van?”

He replied, “Oh, I suppose it`s from when we cleared out her house and they were just in a pot amongst all her possessions.”

I said, “Most people would have thrown them away,” and off we drove to the tip.

He`s had his mum`s false teeth in the back of his van, for two years. You couldn`t really make it up could you……………


Gardening is GOOD for you!


When I got home from work on Friday a letter was waiting for me. I could see straight away it was an NHS letter, the blue franking on the front of the envelope, the letter I had been waiting for and dreading, the appointment for my yearly check-up, year two following treatment for breast cancer.

The chances of the return of the kind of cancer that I had are highest in the first three years, and then the risk drops down quite significantly. If I make it to five years then the chances of it returning are lower than that of all the other types of breast cancer.

So on Friday night, fear paid me a visit.

Fear is a horrible thing. In my case I panic and start to think about the ways in which I might become ill and die at any moment soon. Fear makes me feel sick, it makes me tearful, fear makes me angry and it makes me want to drink a lot and blot it all out. So on Friday night that is exactly what I did.

When I woke up on Saturday morning I thought, “This is no good, I can`t be ruled by fear and spend my time worrying about something that might never happen……” so I told fear to fuck off.  I decided to tackle my garden which as some of you know, resembles a miniature jungle at the moment. I worked hard from 1pm and did not stop until tea time.  An entire wheelie bin packed with weeds and brambles later and after a long period of neglect the front garden is once again looking pretty.

Front garden

I can see the individual plants, I am so pleased, they were being choked by brambles, the lawn was two feet high. By the end of the day, I was so stiff I was hobbling around like an old aged pensioner – oh hang on a minute, I am an old aged pensioner hah! But fear had left me, hurrah!

Today I am starting on the back garden, it is a mammoth undertaking as it is about sixty feet long. A few years ago, a well-meaning neighbour had most of it chipped for me. She hoped it would cut down on maintenance but unfortunately the weeds have grown through the poor quality liner and now the grass is about four feet high. Bind weed chokes many of the plants in the border, it is a huge task yet one which I shall embrace with joy and pleasure. I have my gardening mojo back and I have a plan.

As for fear, well when fear buggered off, fear left something behind.  Fear left hope, positivity and delight in the things that matter to me most like nature and nurture and love.

While we are on the subject of love; my friend Carol Hands who lives across the water in America, is ailing at the moment. Carol writes some of the most awe inspiring, intelligent and truly beautiful blogs here that I have ever read.  Her blog page is called “Voices from the margins.” I have shared many of them, Carol is a poet, an academic and a propagator of peace and balance in these difficult times. Carol if you read this, I know you are in pain. My love is bouncing over the ocean to find its way to you, accompanied by hope and positivity.

Happy Sunday.

We`re all doomed I tell you, doomed!


I`ve had the past week off as annual leave. It`s just as well really because I have some further, unexpected tests and scans to get through relating to my breast cancer or breast banana as I like to refer to it.  Just when you thought etc. etc……

My book

I was due to visit a cousin in Ireland this week but another time cuz, too much on my mind at the mo`.

The holiday at home has afforded me some much-needed time to reflect on my mortality and possible demise, which may be earlier than I anticipated even a year ago although obviously I hope not.  When I was given the news that the banana may have migrated to my other breast, at first I sank into the Slough of Despond but eventually I find, my mind habituates to even bad news, the most morose of thoughts and emotions lessen and in doing so, they become more manageable and life goes on.

I have been reflecting on my life and whether I have any regrets. I have a few, but then again…..

I regret sending Fred Ryland a valentine`s card which read “Roses are red, violets are blue, cabbages stink and so do you.“  Mostly though, being of the nature that believes everything happens for a reason, I regret nothing and I remain an optimist.  I find the main problem with having an optimistic nature is that optimists really believe they can help people become better human beings and are genuinely surprised when we realise yet again and far too late in the day, we cannot.  Hey ho, I digress.

One of the things that living with banana has given me is a really chilled out attitude to the things that don`t really matter which I have discovered is almost everything. Take this morning for example, I have eaten a piece of toast and butter spread liberally with salad cream with a fried egg on top.   Accompanying this feast, I then chomped down an extremely large piece of gorgonzola cheese, two big chilli olives and a bowl of baked beans with at least a desert spoon of Lidl tomato ketchup stirred in.   To finish it all off I took my daily supply of paracetamol, mega doses of magnesium, vitamin D3, cod liver oil, devil`s claw and curcumin supplements.  I fluctuate wildly between eating healthily and not touching alcohol, to downing a bottle of wine and smoking five fags in each hand all at once.  Do I care how much I am abusing my digestive and bodily systems? Not a jot, I`m going to die anyway. Oh come on!  It`s the only thing we can be really sure of and as my sister Sue`s wife said to me the day my sister died, “I knew she was going to die, I just didn`t think it would be today.”  (“It`s a good day to die today,” Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.)

I don’t want a funeral. I`ve been to three recently and another one on Monday of next week. They have all been sad and that is absolutely fine of course but I don`t want sad, I want a happy affair.  The only funeral I have ever attended which was an affair involving lots of laughter and celebration was that of a dear friend and colleague Debbie Lees. Hers was a humanist funeral that really spoke of her, it was great.  So after I die, I`d like some kind death person to come and remove my body please and cremate me and may my family and friends have a big party, get drunk, take illegal substances if that is their bag and have a laugh remembering the me who I am.  And I don`t want any hymns sung, I`d rather you sang “Is that all there is?” and “Cabaret” and “You`ll never walk alone” and “The sun has got his hat on,” at the top of your voices and send my ashes off in the form of a firework. Hah!

So there you are, I don`t have anything to leave anybody, if there is one thing I learned from my Buddhist studies, it`s that material things do not matter.  I was about to write something mean and unpleasant here about clinging to wealth and belongings and about hypocrisy but my mother Bess suddenly materialised across the table from where I`m sitting and drumming her fingers on the wood, tut tutted at me and said, “Now, now Helen…..” so I won`t. She died 23 years ago and she is never far away. Thanks mum, you taught me there is a time and a place for everything and most of all you passed on to me your irreverent sense of humour which showed me how to laugh at life`s adversities.  I`ve enjoyed a lot of laughter in my life, you can`t beat it.

So, more tests over the next two weeks and the results at the end of the month, meanwhile, where did I put my baccy?


Gone but never forgotten!


My ex mother in law Joyce, died yesterday morning. She would have been ninety on June 22nd and for the past few months has been deteriorating with what her G.P. described as  “a touch of Alzheimers,” as well as various other conditions.  She was a poor old thing when she slipped away and my immediate emotion was one of relief, no-one wants to see another human being linger when they are already struggling.

Joyce and I never shared a close relationship, in fact for two years of our lives we did not see or speak to one another at all and they were two good years for me, for Joyce was always so very critical of me, my lifestyle, my parenting skills, my skills as a housewife. I won`t list here the many, many times she undermined me and whittled away at my confidence because she is gone now and it was all so very long ago. Instead, I`d like to comment on the few occasions she made me smile and try to sustain those as my enduring memories of her.

We were walking together up Longbridge Lane, we`d been to the local shops for something or other. It was a hot summer day and a wasp started buzzing around my head.  Joyce began to bat her hand around my head in an effort to scare the wasp away. Suddenly she swatted the side of my head so hard, she bounced my glasses off my face and half way across Longbridge Lane. She collapsed in hysterics and laughed about it the whole of the rest of the way home.

Joyce`s little side swipes were always quite obvious to me however, not to innocent bystanders. For example, when I was leaving my marriage for the first time in November 1991 for my Christmas present Joyce gave me a bag which had “Bon Voyage” printed across the front of it.

I was quite a bit older when I started to take Joyce and her sisters Jean and Lillian out for meals from time to time. I don`t know why I felt duty bound to do this for Tony and I had been divorced for a lot of years and I`d had two serious relationships during that time although I did love Jeanie. (Jeanie also died, two weeks` ago and her funeral was just the other day.) I used to call them The Golden Girls and every meal I took them to, panned out in the same way.  They would mooch around for a table and sit down. Lillian would then complain it was “too draughty” and they would move.  Jeanie would then complain it was “too dark” to see the menu so off we`d go again. It was not uncommon to move at least four times before they were in agreement. Then Joyce would be imperious and terribly rude whilst ordering and say things like, “this glass is dirty (it never was) bring me another clean one immediately,” in hindsight she may have been in early dementia for some years and this could quite easily have affected her perceptions but at the time, I recall being deeply embarrassed and the numbers of waiters and waitresses I have apologised to over the years doesn`t bear thinking about.  Then they would bicker, like three silly children, all the way through their meal.

I was with Joyce on Thursday, a day and a half before she died. She was being nursed in a residential home and we all knew she did not have very much longer, she was so terribly frail and had stopped eating altogether. Like many people with dementia, Joyce was repeating a single word over and over again and the word she chose was “please.”

I know she wanted to go home but she was ensconced in her long term memory by then and probably didn`t know where home was. I tried distracting her which didn`t work and in the end I said to her, “You know Joyce you don`t have to say please, you could say another word….”

“Alright,” she said in a tiny little voice, “what word shall I say?”

So I continued and suggested, “well, you could say balloon, or tomato.”

“Or I could say shit.” She said to me.

“You could indeed,” I replied.

So Joycey sat there, like a little bird in her big bed quietly saying “Shit, shit, shit.”

When I left, I kissed her forehead and said, “Goodbye old lady.”  And she gave me a watery smile and I thought, she is still there, she is still Joyce underneath that haze of dementia.

RIP Joyce Inman.

June 22nd 1927 – June 10th 2017





She died with a fag in her mouth.


In the early 1900`s my family ran a large greengrocer`s shop in Acocks Green.  Above the shop was a huge, five bedroom flat where I was to be born in 1953.  My grandad Edward would get up at the crack of dawn to take his horse and cart five miles to the market to pick up produce to sell and my nan Polly and Edward`s sister Mary helped him in the busy shop.  Mary was always a heavy smoker, she always had a cigarette dangling from her mouth and in spite of her twenty to thirty a day habit managed to live well into her eighties.  She had been a nurse and brought many grateful soldiers back to full health during the first world war.  I know this because as a child, I was given her autograph book signed by lots of the men she nursed and it was filled with some fascinating drawings and poems which accompanied their thanks to her.  One drunken night in my twenties I gave it away to a woman who really loved it and I have regretted that but hey ho, it was a long time ago.

One night during World War 2 a few years before I was born, there was a heavy bombing raid over Birmingham.  Everyone apart from Aunty Mary fled to the large and damp concrete air raid shelter which had been built in the fields at the back of the house to protect the local community.  Mary was a stoic and she refused, as she put it, “to be made to leave her own home because of  The Hun.”  Referring to German soldiers as The Hun was a highly effective piece of propaganda seized upon by British politicians in WW2 in order to demonise the German troops.  Remember Attila the Hun?

Mary had gone to the loo that night presumably to have a fag and take her mind off the air raid.  She was perched on the throne refusing to be put out by Hitler when a bomb happened to fall right outside the flat, exploding and creating a massive crater in the Warwick Road.  The accompanying vibrations to the building literally blew Mary off the toilet so on that occasion, she must have been somewhat relieved to find herself still in tact.  Actually the night time raid also hit St. Mary`s Church in Acocks Green and did a huge amount of damage to that lovely building but like my Aunty Mary, the church too, survived.

Some years after the war, I had been born and spent a lot of my time with my nanny and Aunty Mary who now shared a house together in Dudley Park Road in Acocks Green.  They had retired and my mother and father were always occupied with shop business not that I especially minded at that time, my nanny was my favourite person in the world.

I used to watch Aunty Mary preparing food in the small, nineteen fifties kitchen.  She and nanny always wore aprons and Mary`s fags and matches would be kept available in the pocket of her apron.  She always smelt a mixture of fags and Rennies, I remember it distinctly.

I have a vivid childhood memory of watching Mary making gravy for Sunday dinner in a large roasting tin, the ever present fag hanging down. I was fascinated and childishly horrified as a good inch of ash which had been perilously close to dropping, finally departed from the cigarette and fell like a humungous grey snowflake, down with a gentle plop into the roasting tin.  Unperturbed Mary simply continued to stir the ash into the gravy.

After my nan died, Mary went to be taken care of by my Uncle Alan who lived in Great Barr and from time to time, we would all go to visit her and say hello to my cousins Stephen and Rita.  Alan`s wife Elsie was a very house proud woman and I remember it was a bit like visiting royalty.  My uncle, also a greengrocer worked very hard and the house reflected that with fine furniture and beautiful carpets throughout.  It must have been all the more galling for him therefore, to cope with the manner in which my Aunty Mary had chosen to die.

That day, she had lit a fag and as in WW1 all those years ago, retired to the toilet for a quiet smoke.  God called her, it was her time and she passed away and let her body slip off the loo and on to the newly laid pale green carpet.   Unfortunately, her body was blocking the door so too late, my Uncle Alan managed to push it open only to find the rascally fag that had fallen from her lips had already singed a large burn into his new carpet.

Aunty Elsie must have had kittens but that recollection of my ancient Aunty Mary, always makes me smile.

Sweet and Poetic Memories of my Sister.


This morning I received a lovely surprise in the post.  A large box filled with memories of my wonderful sister Sue, who very sadly died far too early on from lung cancer in 2007.  My sister was 60 when she died and the cancer was brought on by her life time habit of heavy smoking.  When Sue met Mandy who became her civil partner, Mandy objected so much to the smoking, Sue was banished to the garden shed where she festooned the walls with posters of Clint Eastwood and installed a comfy armchair.  There she and I would sit and Sue would smoke and we would chat and look at her very beautiful and rather eccentric garden. There was a large monkey puzzle tree in the garden and so my sister hung lots of toy monkeys purchased from local charity shops, up there in the top branches where they would swing around in the breeze and look down at us, grinning.  Another was gaily hung with sparkling CD`s, a sort of alternative Christmas tree.  Everywhere on the ground you would stumble upon small ceramic animals, hedgehogs, birds, gnomes and fairies.   The garden was filled with flowers of so many varieties; it was a burst of vivid and gorgeous colour wherever you looked and secrets hidden in every corner.

Shortly before my sister died we were talking about smoking and Sue turned to me and said, “Do you know Hel, in spite of it all I can honestly say there isn`t one cigarette I haven`t thoroughly enjoyed.”  Those of us who still miss her so much, could hardly disagree but I`d much rather she were still here.

My sister`s things were posted to me by my niece Sarah.  They had been a while coming to me because in spite of also being diagnosed with a usually much more aggressive type of cancer, Mandy had survived my sister by this much time. Sadly Mandy died too, earlier this year and now the house will be put up for sale.   Times change and all is well.

I took the box to work with me to open up when I got to my office.   This was a bit of a mistake as I instantly began blarting, but happily so, happy to receive such lovely tokens of my sisters` love.   Inside were all sorts of magical things, lots of the silver rings that Sue loved so much (thank you Sarah) silver bangles, precious photographs, a beautiful trinket dish, a glass heart.  Best of all though was a book called “Hel and Sue`s Pomes.  A Collection.”  Sue and I would pen in a few of our favourite poems, sometimes ones we had written ourselves, and then send the book to each other year on year on our birthdays and every year we would add more.  I opened it up and a photograph of my daughter Becky fell out so she must have held a special place in Sue`s heart.  the memories have come flooding back to me now that I have begun reading these wonderful poems again after such a long time.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

New Every Morning.

Every day is a fresh beginning,

Listen my soul to that glad refrain.

And, spite of old sorrows

And older sinning,

Troubles forecasted

And possible pain,

Take heart with the day and begin


Susan Coolidge  1835 – 1905

Here is one that Sue wrote:

Once when I was a child

I found the skeleton of a mouse

Buried in the vinegar scented cellar

Of my father`s shop

It was ivory – intricate,

Very beautiful

I put it into a glass jar and gave it to some-one I loved.

Perhaps we spend our lives

Offering to those we love

A fragile skeleton

Enclosed in glass

If we are lucky we note

Only hairline cracks –

Thankful that the glass does not shatter –

The skeleton remains intact.

Sue Coulson.  1947 – 2007

(I think Sue must have been using poetic license there as dad`s shop didn`t have a cellar, it did have a long entry where he stored the banana crates…..  I think it must have been here that she found the mouse skeleton)

Here`s another one Sue liked:

I would live all of my life in nonchalance

And insouciance

Were it not for making a living,

Which is rather a nouciance.

Ogden Nash.   1902 – 1971

And one of mine…..

Becky`s Rhino Rap.

Her name is Becky and she`s an Inman

And she`s got more balls than a brawny bin man

She`s a lap dancer and she`s ok

She bounces her boobs in a natural way

She shakes her ass and wiggles that butt

And she gets paid for it, for pleasing nuts!

She raises a smile

And that`s not all

She`s a funky Rhino dancer

And she`s got balls!

Helen Pitt. March 2004

(Composed following a conversation with my daughter when we pondered what it would be like to become a lap dancer.  Spearmint Rhino had just opened midst a huge furore in Birmingham)

And my favourite one of mine…..

The Song of the Lovesick Octopus.

 I want you to know dear

And understand

My heart is rich with gravity

Please slip your octopus arm in here

And fill my mantel cavity.

I want to float in the surf with you

And murmer the words, “be mine”

I am slippy and slimy and wet from the sea,

Yours fishily, just give me a sign.

 I need you to do that special trick

The one where you change your hue,

And watch as the blush spreads

Along your arms

And entangle myself with you

 And can you do your shape changer bit,

And morph into something special,

A chair, a bed, a bar of soap,

Let`s have an octopus wrestle.

 I need to swim in the brine with you

It`s hopeless, I wish you could see.

Please take me to heaven,

Wrap your legs up in mine,

And make octopus love with me.

Helen Pitt.  Valentines Day 2004.


It`s hard to believe that I wrote this poem for the Australian.  Hard to believe I once loved this man, that much.     (

Hey ho.  Times change and all is well.

I am ever so happy to have been given these things of my sisters and will leave this blog with a comment from my darling niece:

“The little plate I`ve sent you used to live on Ma`s side of the bed.  I really love it but I`m not really a knick-knack type of person.  It may have something to do with the fact that both my parents crammed/cram as much stuff/things/artefacts/junk/collectibles and shite into and onto every available space……..”

Well I am a knick-knack type of person Sarah and thank you again so much.  You have made my day.week/month/year.       🙂

Fred Ryland. In his memory.


I first met Fred Ryland when I was sixteen, we met at the Birmingham flat of a couple of mutual friends, Dick Doyle and Dave Sevier, I can`t honestly remember how I met Dick and Dave it`s all so long ago.

We would sit around on the floor, cross legged or me with my feet up on the sofa, for hours each evening and most of the weekend.  Fred would roll a joint and share it with whoever was visiting, we would listen to The Doors, Velvet Underground, The Strawbs and Jimi Hendrix and talk the sort of philosophical, stoned nonsense that you talk when you are kids.

Fred was incredibly handsome in an olive skinned, hippy kind of a way.  His hair was jet black and shiny and hung around his shoulders like a girls.  His teeth were large and white, and he had a full and inviting mouth with very red lips.  He grew a beard, in fact once he`d grown the beard he resembled Che Guevara, I thought he was fabulous.  He was also mega clever, I do like clever men.  By the time he was at Aston University in 1972, he was studying pure mathematics and writing new computer languages.

I met Fred shortly after his dad had died.  Fred`s mum and dad were German.  His dad was in the German Luftwaffa and was captured by British soldiers during World War Two and taken to a prison of war camp in Cardiff I think.  It was here that he eventually met and married Fred`s mother.  I recall that Fred told me that she had a very difficult time towards the end of the war, getting out of Germany, it may be that her family was Jewish, Fred certainly looked Jewish. He had a lovely throaty laugh and a slightly German way of pronouncing words, he pronounced his `v`s` as `f`s` and I found that very endearing.  His mum may have survived her son, the last I heard of her in 2007 was that she had Alzheimers and was in a nursing home in Cheltenham.

Fred`s father liked to smoke and drink, and he eventually paid the penalty, dying in his late fifties with a massive coronary.  Fred awoke one night to hear his mum frantically calling out for him and when he entered his parent`s room in the middle of the night, his dad had already died.  I remember he talked to me about the indescribable shock and utter confusion he experienced when he saw his father on the bed because his dad had suffered a hemorrhage and had lost blood from his nose, mouth and tear ducts.  Fred had to deal with his own and his mother`s grief at the tender age of sixteen.  It affected him massively and it is hard to believe, he was bullied at school after his father`s death, shame on them.

Fred had a Norton Scrambler motorbike which was his pride and joy.  It took us everywhere in the days before we had to wear helmets, our hair was constantly tangled from catching the breeze on the bike.  He would even take me on the bike up the M1 to see my sister in Leeds.  Him all concentration and his pillion passenger reading a book which was typical of me.  I read The Happy Hooker once, all the way to Leeds.

We fell terribly hard in love. They do say that first love never dies and it really is true.

We would lie on his big old feather bed at every possible opportunity and listen to our favourite musicians, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell….. and make out.  A massive poster of Marsha Hunt, black, oiled and naked, lying across a Harley Davidson motorbike, gazed down at us.  I would read juicy bits of Forum magazine out to him.  Forum was a liberal sex publication available during the flower power, love and peace seventies but without the pictures, we didn`t mind that because we liked to read to each other.  It was considered a very risqué magazine at that time, about 1972 but we liked it and would try out all the things we fancied.  Ah, those were halcyon days indeed.

When Fred and I had been together a couple of years, he discovered parachuting.  It became his passion and he went on to be a great teacher and jump out of aeroplanes all over the world.  Sadly, we were growing up and growing apart and our relationship came to a somewhat acrimonious end when I was nineteen.  I was broken hearted, it was mostly my fault and in spite of lengthy and valiant efforts to get him back, he was having none of it.  In the end I moved on but I never forgot about Fred.

I was lost in a memory this morning, walking my little dog along the stream at Brueton Park for it was there in 1971 on a similarly hot, summer`s day that Fred and I lay down in the grass by the stream, me in my orange bikini, he in his black shorts and we absolutely baked ourselves.  When I got home my mother made me lie in a cool bath for ages, she was scared I would get sun stroke and then Fred and I lay down on my bed and slept in each other`s arms, both of us burned to buggery.

I recently heard that Fred had died.  Just like his father, Fred had a heart attack in his late fifties.  Perhaps he had an idea that he was going to die because he came to see me in the spring of 2007.  I was 53 and I hadn`t seen him for thirty six years.  He stayed with me for four days. I am immensely grateful for that time and I will never forget it, it was lovely to know that he had never forgotten about me.  He wasn`t well when he stayed with me, he slept for a good deal of the time.  Although the passion of our youth had disappeared many years ago, the tenderness we felt for each other and the love still remained.  It made me very happy just to be with him and it has left me with a good memory of him.  It allowed me an opportunity to say I`m sorry for my bad behaviour all those years ago and to be forgiven.  His visit made me understand how important it is never to lose sight of love and to be grateful for the good times.

I hope that Fred rests in peace, he was a really cool guy and I adored him.

On death and dying.


I seem to have been surrounded by bereavement this week.  Beginning with my beloved sister Sue, it is the fourth anniversary of her death in a few days` time and I always find myself becoming emotional around this part of the year….  then there is my ex partner whose much loved brother-in-law passed away suddenly  a few months ago and finally, I received news yesterday that an old flame, someone very special to me, died last year the news taking its time to reach me.  So all in all, I`ve had enough of death.  Yah boo sucks to death!  I told my daughter yesterday, I am going to live until I`m a hundred and two and death can hang around for a bit for me until I`m good and ready.

Fortunately, my mother brought me up to have a healthy attitude to death and to see dying as the natural conclusion to our lives so I`m not afraid of dying and only occasionally concerned about the manner in which I die.  One has to remain philosophical although some people would argue that I do have some control, I can live a healthy lifestyle and try to maximise my chances I suppose.

I have also inherited from my dear mama, an irreverent attitude to death and just like she used to, I often find funerals quite funny in a dark sort of a way.  Take Fred Pierce the fish monger`s funeral as an example.  When everyone gathered around the crematorium after the service my mother glanced towards the chimneys and said to my brother in an audible whisper, `Alan, do you smell fish?` Then there is an acquaintance of mine, Jonny, who was attending his father`s funeral.  Jonny is a stereotypical white working class Brummy racist.  As I later listened to news of the service I was quite entertained.  I understand it was conducted by a Jamaican vicar who was as black as the ace of spades..

When my beautiful friend Simon took his life many years ago, the church was packed and there was standing room only.  Simon`s father was a minister and when Simon came out to him as gay, his father was so appalled by his son`s sexuality that he banished Simon from his church telling him that if he entered that holy place, he would taint it.  So it was very poignant to observe his father`s face as hundreds of people who like me, loved Simon deeply, rocked up to his funeral in an outrageous and incredibly flamboyant outpouring of love expressed in all the colours of the rainbow, just as Simon would have wanted it. So death, yes, it`s a funny old thing.This morning one of my friends sent me this in an e mail and I like it, it`s apt and it`s loving and most of all, it`s true.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
So love the people who treat you well.
Love the ones who don’t just because you can.
Believe everything happens for a reason.  
If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands.
If it changes your life, let it.
Kiss slowly.
Forgive quickly.
God never said life would be easy.
He just promised it would be worth it.

Living in Balsall Heath


When my ex husband and I were in our twenties and the children were only babies, we lived for two years in Runcorn Road in Balsall Heath. The property we lived in, a splendid terraced house, was then owned by Shape Housing Association. Shape only owned short life housing which meant we could stay there for a little while because the property was due for demolition and the land for redevelopment.

I loved living in Balsall Heath. A notorious red light area, the only thing that annoyed me was that I would often get curb crawled, even if I had the children with me. I got into the habit of taking a note book out of my bag and writing the car registration down and then they’d speed away. Furiously pushing the children ahead in their buggy I’d shout after the drivers, “Do I look like I’m on the game?!!”

My children went to Tindal School which was and still is a community school and offered impoverished mums like me, a great deal of support. Tony was working teaching art part time in Bridgenorth. We were as poor as church mice and I was pretty down for a while but Balsall Heath saved me, it saved my life. The nursery at Tindal was great, they would take the children for the morning and send me home to sleep, which was just what I needed. My son Jesse had a lot of friends there and when we arrived at nursery my daughter Becky would inevitably take off all her clothes and climb into the large white Belfast sink in the corner where she was very happy playing in the water while someone watched over her. That wouldn’t happen now of course but nobody seemed to mind in those days. The school children were almost entirely asian making my children practically the only white children there and I think their early experiences at Tindal enriched their lives immeasurably and taught them all sorts of skills they may not have gained in any other school. I went back to visit Tindal School a little while ago and it was great revisiting those times. It is now a school which mainly teaches children whose parents are seeking asylum. The head teacher told me how heart breaking it is, to get the children settled in, only to see the families later dispersed somewhere miles away.

When I lived in Balsall Heath I occasionally used to pop over to The Victoria Inn at the end of the road where I would share a drink with the Evening Mail columnist Maureen Messent and that helped too, since she and I had some great conversations. She was particularly fond of our daughter and I believe she may have lost a child herself although this was never confirmed.

Opposite us were more terraced houses which were occupied by mostly older people who had lived there all their lives. We made friends with lots of neighbours. Next door to us were a brother and sister who had lived with one another for all of their eighty five years together, they were fascinating to talk to, they were from a different century and going into their house was like time travelling. I joined a writing group called Women and Words and developed a massive crush on the facilitator, a beautiful, gamine woman called Myra who encouraged me with my writing. We held poetry readings at The Old Moseley Arms, my poems were pretty popular and all the while my confidence in my writing was increasing.

As we were getting ready to leave Runcon Road to buy our first house in Yardley (261 Jeannie) two families moved in to squat at the end of the road. They were travellers and had nine children between them. They came into our garden when we weren’t there and took our children’s toys but we understood, they had no money. They were made unwelcome by most in our community but me and Tony made friends with them. Their children would steal our milk off the door step and Tony would go and knock on their door and ask for it back. One day one of the little ones brought sterilised milk to Tony and he said, ‘mine’s pasteurised!’ He could see a line of stolen milk running all along their hallway.

One of the travellers knocked our door one evening and asked us if, when we left, we would leave the front door on the latch so that they could move in and have a house of their own. We knew how unpopular this would be with our neighbours, nevertheless, we left the kitchen window open for them and my mum and dad’s bed, the bed I had been born on and which had been passed on to me by my mother, we left that for them too, they didn’t have two sticks to rub together. We occasionally called by to collect our post from them and although in the main it has to be said they were rogues, we had developed a friendship based on a sort of mutual respect.

I sometimes drive down Runcorn Road and recall those times. The houses are all gone now to make way for a car park but when I drive by I get all the echoes of my children’s early years, running through my head and hear the sound of children’s laughter up at Tindal School.